Conscription created the first type of military draft in the United States. The Conscription Act of 1863 occurred during the Civil War in response to the large number of casualties (Walzer, 98). As more and more men were killed or injured during battle, both the Union Army and the Confederate Army needed a steady supply of more men able to engage in battle because the end of the war was not in sight and there were more battles to be fought. Therefore, President Lincoln and his War Department felt that enacting the draft was a good solution to the problem (Walzer, 98). However, many were strongly opposed to compulsory service in the military and did not agree with the draft (Walzer, 98). The Conscription Act of 1863 removed the choice of serving in the military from the general public and began to make service mandatory if called upon to do so. Despite this requirement, there was a way out. Those who were drafted into serving in the military could opt out by paying a substitute three hundred dollars. This substitute would essentially be paid to take the place of someone who did not wish to join the military (Walzer, 98).
The South had a problem with the exemption clause of the Conscription Act because they felt that it was not fair that only the wealthy were able to purchase their way out of serving in the military. Further, they felt that it was not right that poor people were accepting the money to act as a substitute simply because they were poor (Walzer, 98). The objections went even further to state that there was something wrong with a system that paid poor men to die for their country while allowing rich men to remain safe in the comfort of their own home (Walzer, 98). The South also cited patriotism as a reason why they were opposed to the Conscription Act of 1863. Not only did they feel that mandatory military service went against the free nature of the United States but they also felt that men who could afford to opt received an unfair exemption from undesired military service that was not available to all men opposed to the draft (Walzer, 99).
The primary problem with the Conscription Act of 1863 was that it created an unequal system of military service between wealthy American citizens and poor American citizens. Wealthy American citizens who opposed serving in the military could easily come up with three hundred dollars to buy their way out of engaging in battle. However, poor people could not. As a result, more poor people were ultimately drafted into the military which created an unequal draft system which targeted the poor as well as those who were not able to purchase an exemption, such as black people, immigrants or non citizens. Further, the military service was not valued during the Civil War the way that it is in current society so those serving in the military were not viewed as heroes (Walzer, 99). This attitude certainly added to the unequal make up of the Confederate Army because military service was seen as something to avoid rather than something to be proud of.
Finally, the South objected to the Conscription Act of 1863 because they felt that it drew a line between what could be bought and sold (Walzer, 99). Whereas military service was voluntary prior to this act, the passing of the act now forced men to serve in the military. However, this military service, as stated above, was not valued and was easily bought and sold (Walzer, 99). The South felt that this practice of buying and selling soldiers went against the American principles they were supposedly fighting for (Walzer, 99). The South went further to emphasize that allowing men to purchase exemptions turned military service from a public entity into a private transaction. In other words, military service ceased to be about public duty and became a private business between those purchasing their way out of possible death by paying someone willing to take that risk (Walzer, 99). Ultimately, the problem with conscription comes down to equality. When some men are able to opt out of the war while others are not it creates an unequal military system that is not built on patriotic duty to one’s country.
Walzer, Micheal. Spheres of Justice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality. New York: Perseus